Sunday, June 3, 2012, 6:43 AM
D&D Next has been advertising itself as the edition of reunification, promising to bring various different players of various different play-styles back to the same table. In this thread, I want to tackle one specific topic and how it relates to that goal, and that topic is racial design.
I don't know about anybody else, but race is a big deal to me in D&D, even if not always necessarily mechanically then always at least conceptually and thematically. In other words, even if my Minotaur Fighter and my Genasi Fighter are otherwise identically mechanically constructed, their racial differences, whether mechanical and thematic, make them feel very different to me. I love the idea of having various different styles of PC race so much that most of my personal home-brewing effort in every edition that I've played has gone towards creating or altering playable races (you can find some of my 4E work in my signature). Through this effort, I believe that I've stumbled onto some guiding principles of racial design that the developers of D&D Next would do well to look into and consider.
As I would like to be as constructive as possible, I will make every effort to balance every criticism with either some sort of praise or a proposal for a solution if not both. I would request that any posters participating in this discussion try to do the same.
I. RACIAL PIGEON-HOLING
If one of the goals of D&D next is to reunify players of different play-styles, then the game must be open to allowing players of different play-styles all to create similarly mechanically competent characters. To this end, I have concluded that in D&D Next, more than in any other edition before it, racial pigeon-holing is bad. All that racial pigeon-holing does is enforce preference for particular play-styles in a way that overtly mechanically penalizes players who want to create something different.
Here are some specific examples of racial pigeon-holing from the three most recent editions of D&D:
* In 3rd edition, Gnomes got a bonus to the save DC of their illusion spells.
* In 4th edition, Half-Orcs got a bonus to speed when charging.
* In D&D Next, Dwarves get a bonus to damage with hammers.
What specifically do these features do? Well, what they mean is that, for example, if I play a Half-Orc Shaman in 4th edition, then my character sheet lists a racial feature that is completely useless to me. It merely takes up space and reminds me that the character that I am playing is not the kind of character that the designers think that I should play. Because of that, because my character is effectively short a racial feature, it would not be unreasonable of me to conclude that my character is not quite up to par mechanically.
So, when I learn that races in D&D Next will be getting damage bonuses with traditionally racially favored weapons, I just see the same mistake repeating itself. If I decide to play a Dwarf Wizard, I will have a useless racial feature, one that only sits on my character sheet and reminds me that the developers think that Dwarves should all be wielding hammers or else be shorted a powerful racial feature. It does no good not to go ahead and point out everything that I see as problematic, so I'm also going to call out the Dwarf's "Speed" racial feature. Yes, it is a very iconic and traditional feature of Dwarves to be able to ignore speed penalties for heavy armor, but this feature runs into the same problem as the hammer bonus does; it's entirely useless to too many characters. My Dwarf Wizard now has two powerful racial feature that it will never, ever use.
Another very important example of racial pigeon-holing is racial penalties, and that goes not only for ability score penalties but also for penalties like the ones that small characters have traditionally gotten for wielding weapons. I've not seen any examples of this in the play-test material, though, so I don't think that I need to spend too much time on this point.
What are some examples of good racial features? Well, two of the Dwarf's other features, Dwarven Resilience and Low-Light Vision are perfect, as are the Elf's Free Spirit and Keen Senses and the Halfling's Lucky. All of these features are useable and useful to any character of any class or role. The Halfling's Naturally Stealthy seems questionable, but I would personally give it a pass considering that every Halfling can still use and benefit from it. Remember, what I'm saying is not that I don't think race and class should ever have synergy, just that I think such synergy should be more subtle in order to accommodate a wider variety of play-styles.
So, what can be done to accommodate the most play-styles in the spirit of reunification? I have come up with two possible solutions:
Solution 1: Move features like these out of the racial stat block and over to feats and themes. Want your Dwarf to excel with hammers? Pick up the "Dwarven Hammer Mastery" feat or select the "Dwarven Hammersmith" theme. This keeps the tradition alive while not forcing all Dwarf-players to deal with it if they don't want to. Character who want to select it will, and character who don't want to select it won't. This has traditionally been the way that some more obscure racially-stereotypical effects have been handled in the past
Solution 2: Turn racial features into options. If you played 3.5, think of how the PHB2 introduced alternative class feature options. If you played 4th edition, think of how some races like the Dragonborn and Elf got alternative racial power options after release. What if when I selected Dwarf as my race, I got the option between these two features:
* "Speed: You don't suffer a speed penalty for being encumbered or for wearing heavy armor."
* "Steadfast" You don't suffer a speed penalty for being encumbered, and spells cannot reduce your speed to below 3."
It's a very rough example, but I hope that it gets across the general idea. The option is granted between similarly-themed features, and players can pick whichever mechanical effect they feel is most right for their character, meaning that the stereotypically heavily-armored Dwarf can keep the Speed feature but the hipster lightly-armored Dwarf can still also select something else that it may actually get to use at least every so often, and it doesn't even have to expect any character resources like a feat to do it.
II. RACE VS. CULTURE
If one of the goals of D&D next is to reunify players of different play-styles, then the game must be open to allowing players of different play-styles all to create similarly thematically sensible characters. To this end, I have concluded that in D&D Next, more than in any other edition before it, culture and race must be divorced from one another, at least certainly as far as the basic mandatory racial stat block is concerned. All that inserting cultural features into racial mechanics does is enforce preference for particular character and campaign backgrounds in a way that overtly thematically penalizes players who want to create something different by saddling them with racial features that are nonsensical for their characters to have.
Here are some specific examples of race-culture conflation from the three most recent editions of D&D:
* In 3rd edition, Elves received proficiency with rapiers and bows.
* In 4th edition, Eladrin got a bonus trained skill due to their education.
* In D&D Next, Dwarves are able to identify stonework by culture.
What do these features do? Well, what they mean is that, for example, if I play an Elf in 3rd edition that was adopted and raised by Gnomes, then my character sheet has a listed racial feature that thematically makes absolutely no sense for my character to have. It merely takes up space and reminds me that the character that I am playing is not the kind of character that the designers think that I should play. This problem becomes even worse when we consider that, even if my Elf was raised by other Elves in the Elven culture typical of the setting, Elven culture is not the same across all settings, published or homebrewed.
So, when I learn that races in D&D Next will be getting damage bonuses with traditionally racially favored weapons, I just see the same mistake repeating itself. If I decide to play a Dwarf raised by Halflings or a Dwarf in a setting where Dwarves are more stereotypically considered gunsmiths, I will have a nonsensical racial feature, one that only sits on my character sheet and reminds me that the developers think that Dwarves should all be wielding hammers or else be considered counter to their expectations of character background. It does no good not to go ahead and point out everything that I see as problematic, so I'm also going to call out the Dwarf's "Stone-Cunning" racial feature. Yes, it is a very iconic and traditional feature of Dwarves to have some affinity for stone and stonework (though the 4E Dwarf got by just fine without it), but this feature runs into the same problem as the hammer bonus does; it's entirely nonsensical to too many characters. My Halfling-raised Dwarf now has two racial features that make no thematic sense for it to have.
Again to point out examples of good racial features, I will point to Dwarven Resilience and Low-Light Vision, as well as the Elf's Free Spirit and Keen Senses and the Halfling's Lucky and Naturally Stealthy. All of these features represent qualities that are biological or otherwise innate and that will remain consistently thematically appropriate regardless of character background or cultural variations within or between campaign settings.
So, what can be done to accommodate the most play-styles in the spirit of reunification? Again, both of the solution that I detailed for the problem of racial pigeon-holing will work. Culture-specific features can be moved to the domain of feats, where players can ignore them if nonsensical for their characters, or they can be turned into options, with more culture-neutral features offered as alternatives so that players can pick whichever mechanical effect they feel is most right for their character.
Although I disagree with their specific implementations on grounds unrelated to the topic of this thread, features like the Dwarven Resilience and the Elf's Free Spirit with their outright immunities lead me to believe that the developers are trying to make race a bigger deal in D&D Next. This is a move that I must say that I support very much, but if their implementation works counter to their design goals of reunification, then that will all be for naught. We need to get these messages across very clearly and very early in the design process:
* Racial pigeon-holing is bad.
* Conflating race and culture is bad.
Friday, January 20, 2012, 10:55 AM
(( All images were found via Google image search. You can click on all of them to get linked to their sources. ))
The Genasi race has always been a paradox to me. On one hand, it does something spectacular that I wish more races would do, and that is that gives players options, specifically racial feature and racial power options. When you play a Genasi character and tell the other players your character's race, they want to know more details about what sort of member of your race you are because your race alone simply isn't enough information.
However, on the other hand, the racial feature options available to the Genasi race are some of the most boring, drab, and uninspiring in the entire game. Yes, some of the energy resistances offered aren't offered anywhere else, but the mechanic itself is about as unique as the defense bonuses that otherwise plague the race, and I do mean plague.
Not being one to settle for less than perfection, especially not from a race that by all counts deserves to be so much more amazing and unique, I've decided to put some of my boredom to use this summer and reimagine the Genasi race, at least on a mechanical level. I hope that you enjoy this attempt at recreating the Genasi race, and I look forward to questions, comments, concerns, criticisms, and of course, praise. (Yes, that last one was a joke. I promise that I'm not really that arrogant.)
Oh, and the Air-Soul Genasi can fly!*
5'7" - 6'2"
130 lb. - 225 lb.
+2 Charisma and either +2 Constitution or +2 Dexterity
Your ancestors were native to the Elemental Chaos, so you are considered an elemental creature for the purpose of effects that relate to creature origin.
Choose one elemental manifestation: Earth-Soul, Fire-Soul, Air-Soul, or Water-Soul. Each manifestation offers particular benefits and provides an associated power."Just the basics..."
The first thing that you'll notice is that I've redone the race's ability score bonuses. Yes, I know that many people will be upset about losing "swordmage-the-race", but I decided that I might as well go all out if I'm going to do this at all, and honestly, Intelligence and Strength are about the last two ability score bonuses that I would have given the race. I decided on Charisma as the primary ability because I view Charisma as the mental version of Strength (just as I view Wisdom as the mental version of Constitution and Intelligence as the mental version of Dexterity); I imagine Genasi having a great deal of elemental power, and while I do imagine this power as manifesting physically, I view it primarily as mental. Secondarily, I selected Constitution and Dexterity because I can imagine all possible Genasi manifestations (even those not redone here and even those not yet recreated in 4E at all) as being well represented by either bonus, some even by both.EARTH-SOUL
There was the temptation to tie a character's secondary ability score bonus to their selected manifestation, but I decided against this because (A) if they still only got the option between Constitution and Dexterity across the entire race, then I feel like that would be too limiting to each individual manifestation, (B) if they got more than just those two options across the entire race, then I feel like that would make the race as a whole too versatile, and (C) there are manifestations for which I could easily see either option equally making sense (e.g. Water).
Many of you may have realized that my proposed Genasi ability score bonuses would mean that there would be no race that could grant bonuses to both Strength and Intelligence. To be honest, I don't care. It's just not important to me to have every possible racial ability score bonus combination covered, and I was totally fine with our lack of a race with boosts to both Constitution and Intelligence. I realize that this may not be the case for some of you, but rest assured that the remainder of this project can still be used just as well even if you decide to keep the race's original bonuses (I could hardly blame you, and I wouldn't at all be offended). However, I will not be persuaded to alter these bonuses by concerns that are not thematic.
Moving on, the second thing that you may notice is that the race's basic block does not have a listed speed. This is because speed is something that I've decided to tie to each individual manifestation. Some manifestations are faster, and some manifestations are slower. This makes good thematic sense to me, but I saw no need to extend this to other features like Size and Vision.
Third, you'll notice that the race's basic block grants only a single racial skill bonus. Again, the second skill bonus is something that I've decided should logically vary depending on the element being manifested. A bonus to Nature, however, was something that I felt should appear as a constant, especially since Wisdom almost made it as this race's primary ability score bonus over Charisma pretty much solely because of Nature.
Finally, you'll notice that I've only recreated four manifestations. I have given some thought to additional manifestations, but for the initial presentation of this idea, I wanted to limit the number of manifestations that we would have to discuss down to the four classical elements. If this concept sees some success, then I will consider adding manifestations for Cold and Lightning, possibly even Light and Dark.
When you first gain this manifestation, select either +2 Dungeoneering or +2 Endurance. This choice can be retrained.
You have the Earth keyword.
You have Earth Walk. (You ignore difficult terrain that is rubble, uneven stone, or an earthen construction.)
You ignore armor penalties to your speed. When you are slowed while wearing light or no armor, your speed becomes 3 instead of 2.
When an attack would score a critical hit against you, you can immediately make a saving throw to turn the critical hit into a normal hit.
You have the Earth-Shock
Earth-Shock (Earth-Soul Genasi Racial Power)
Minor Action, Close
blast 3 or burst 1
Each creature in the blast or burst that is touching the ground.
Highest ability score +3 vs. Fortitude
(+6 at 11th level, +9 at 21st level)
The target is knocked prone."Get ready to rock"
The Earth-Soul was the first that I decided to tackle, and right away, I envisioned characters with this manifestation as being slower, which is part of why I removed Speed from the race's basic block above to begin with. To compensate for this lower speed, the race has the Landslide feature. It borrows the Dwarf's ability to ignore armor penalties to speed, but unlike the Dwarf, it also grants at least some benefit to characters not burdened by armor, an increased movement speed while slowed. The Earth Walk mechanic was something that I added a lot later when I realized that this manifestation was lacking compared to the others, and I feel that ignoring some of the most common sorts of difficult terrain in the game is pretty amazing, but not so amazing that it overpowers the race, especially not with a speed of 5. The working name of this feature was "Steadfast", but I originally intended to name this feature something with the word "boulder", as I imagine a boulder not actually being all that fast (at last not at first) but being unstoppable enough to be scary.FIRE-SOUL
One thing that I wanted to make sure that I got rid of in this redesign was boring defense bonuses, but I understood the logic in wanting to grant the manifestation a feature that represented its physical toughness. Indeed, the physical toughness of a being so strongly associated with (and arguably at least partially constructed of) earth and stone should be substantial, and so I created the Rugged Form feature. It may seem too good, but remember that turning a monster's critical hit into a normal hit isn't nearly as bad or significant as turning's a player character's critical hit into a normal hit.
I know that the old blanket +1 to all saves was awesome, but I really just wasn't feeling the thematic justification for it beyond the toughness already covered, and it was frankly a very boring feature, so I decided to scrap it entirely.
Finally, I didn't actually change the racial power too much. In fact, most of these racial power revisions stick pretty closely to their original version. The only changes that I made to Earth-Shock were (A) improving its attack bonus to current standards, (B) changing its range to give the option of using it either as a blast or as a burst so that more artillery characters could make better use of it, and (C) having it target all creatures instead of only enemies for thematic and balance reasons.
All in all, this was a pretty simple manifestation to redo, and I don't expect that it will cause too much fuss or controversy.
When you first gain this manifestation, select either +2 History or +2 Intimidate. This choice can be retrained.
You have resistance to fire damage equal to 5 + one-half of your level.
You have the Fire keyword. Unlike other Fire creatures, you do not shed light by default.
You have the Ignite
You have the Fire-Pulse
Ignite (Fire-Soul Genasi Racial Power)
Minor Action, Personal
You shed either dim light to a radius of 2 squares, bright light to a radius of 5 squares, or bright light to a radius of 10 squares.
While you shed light as a result of this power, you can as a minor action cause one flammable object that is not carried by another creature to catch fire. While you shed dim light as a result of this power, this can be any object that you touch. While you shed bright light as a result of this power, this can be any object that is within 5 squares of you.
You can end the effects of this power as a free action. Otherwise, they last either until you use this power again or until you fall unconscious.
Fire-Pulse (Fire-Soul Genasi Racial Power)
Encounter * Fire
You can use this power in one of two ways:
* Minor Action, Close
One creature in the burst.
* Immediate Reaction, Close
An enemy in the burst hits you with a melee attack.
The triggering enemy in the burst.
Highest ability score +3 vs. Reflex
(+6 at 11th level, +9 at 21st level)
1d8 + highest ability score modifier fire damage, and each creature adjacent to the target takes fire damage equal to your highest ability score modifier.
(2d8 + at 11th level, 4d8 + at 21st level)"Burn the midnight oil"
The reasoning behind the Fire-Soul's skill bonus options may need a bit of explaining. History was actually the first bonus that came to mind because Fire is so often used as a metaphor and embodiment of intelligence, technology, innovation, and civilization, and I felt that this was covered best by History. I decided on Intimidate after reviewing a list of skills and deciding that Fire was something that most creature have some immediate (if not innate) fear of because of its reputation for being such a destructive elemental force.AIR-SOUL
Fervent Form is just Fire resistance. Yes, I am altering these manifestations significantly (and, yes, I did get rid of the boring and unnecessary defense bonus), but did you really think that I'd make a Fire-Soul Genasi without Fire resistance? That would make no sense. I did, however, at least improve it to Tiefling-like scaling.
The Ignite power simply does what I think that a Fire-Soul Genasi should have been able to do all along. The physical description for the manifestation even says that its hair is literally Fire, so why can't these characters even brighten up a room? The power also allows the character to set fire to nearby objects, a feature that I must admit that I stole from the Psionic Spark Wild Talent Cantrip. Yes, I do realize that this entire power is mostly just flavor and merely replicates the effects of what you could do if you just bought a candle and a torch, so no, I am not considering it to be a major racial feature in terms of mechanical power, but other than Fire resistance, lighting, and setting stuff on Fire, there really isn't that much that I expect from the Fire-Soul, and so I spent the rest of the design space for this manifestation improving its terrible racial power.
For those of you that didn't know that Fire-Pulse was a terrible power, please go take a look at the updated version of the Tiefling's Infernal Wrath racial power. Go on, I'll wait… … … … … See what I mean? Infernal Wrath is pretty much objectively better than Fire-Pulse in every way: it's a free action, much better than an immediate reaction; it's range is better by 9 squares; it has a far less restrictive trigger, only requiring that you get hit rather than that you get hit specifically by a melee attack; and it doesn't even require an attack roll and instead functions as an effect. Worst of all about Fire-Pulse, though, is it made no thematic sense. Why in the world should these characters only be able to set an enemy on fire after getting hit? Why can they not set fire to an enemy whenever they want? However, not only did I need to bring Fire-Pulse up to par mechanically and alter it to make sense thematically, I also needed to add in something to make up for the Fire-Soul's current mechanical inadequacy. My solution was twofold:
(A) After improving the power's attack and damage to current standards and improving the power's range to something more reasonable and useful, I added a secondary attack targeting creatures adjacent to the primary target. This would give the power a reason to require an attack roll. Unfortunately, I still found this lacking in power, and I also feared that it made the power too complex, so the power now simply deals fire damage to all creatures adjacent to the target as an effect upon successfully blowing up the initial target. Note that, while this does affect the character itself if it is adjacent to the target, this damage is never enough at any level to surpass the character's fire resistance anyway.
(B) Because I both wanted to allow the power's use not to be restricted to when the character was hit in melee for thematic reasons and wanted to use my leftover design space to improve this power's versatility while not necessarily making any individual use of the power any more powerful than any individual use of any other racial power, allowing the power to be used either as a minor action or as an immediate reaction was actually the first thing that came to mind, and I must say that I'm rather pleased with the result both thematically and mechanically. The minor action version seems about comparable in power to the Dragonborn's Dragon Breath racial power, and the hit effect seems decent enough to justify the attack roll and other limitations on the Immediate Reaction version in comparison to the Tiefling's Infernal Wrath.
When you first gain this manifestation, select either +2 Acrobatics or +2 Stealth. This choice can be retrained.
You have the Air keyword.
You gain a +2 racial bonus to Athletics checks made to jump, and each of your allies within 5 squares of you gains a +1 racial bonus to Athletics checks made to jump.
You have the Glide
You have the Wind-Walk
power.Glide (Air-Soul Genasi Racial Power)
Free Action, Personal
You fall at least 10 feet (2 squares).
You take no damage from the fall.
If you use this power not during your turn and fall at least 25 feet (5 squares), then you can choose to stop falling. You resume falling immediately after the start of your next turn. You also resume falling if you are stunned or if you fall prone, as though you were flying.
If you use this power during your turn and fall at least 25 feet (5 squares), then you can choose to stop falling and gain a fly speed equal to your speed until the end of your turn (you resume falling immediately after the end of your turn). However, this flight cannot take you upward, and if you fly upward before the end of your turn (such as by using your Wind-Walk
racial power), then you lose this flight and cannot use this power to stop falling until after you have landed or until the end of your turn (you can still use it to not take damage from a fall).Special:
Unlike other free actions, this power can be used at the start of your turn or at the end of your turn. If you use this power at the start of your turn, then you treat it as having been used during your turn. If you use this power at the end of your turn, then you treat it as having been used not during your turn.
Wind-Walk (Air-Soul Genasi Racial Power)
Move Action, Personal
You can fly a number of squares equal to your speed +2."Gonna blow your mind"
(( Note that Glide has been altered since I posted this thread, so the majority of the following is now irrelevant. ))WATER-SOUL
You skipped to this one because I said that it could fly, didn't you? Well, since we're on the subject, I might as well go ahead an talk about it. Sorry to disappoint you, but there's just no way to balance normal or even overland flight at-will. The benefit alone of being able to ignore all difficult terrain is simply too powerful in combat to be a racial feature, and even overland flight is simply too amazing out of combat. What I think can be done, however, is Glide. I first got the idea for a racial feature like Glide when I saw the Winged Bracers, an item way back in Dragon Magazine 369 (cookie if you can guess why I was initially so excited to read that issue to begin with). Unfortunately, while the mechanic was a great attempt, it just didn't make a lot of sense logically and was very problematic mechanically. Why do a 4-square fall and a 20-square fall allow me to fly the same distance? Does this really allow me to fly during somebody else's turn? Why does this let me fly even if I'm unconscious or petrified? I also wanted to allow Air-Soul Genasi to avoid falling damage, but I always felt it weird that so many effects that reduce falling damage function while a character shouldn't be able to take any actions at all, so I combined all of this into one, little, neat, tidy, free-action power.
Okay, so the power isn't that neat or tidy. In fact, the power is very complicated and even pretty difficult to understand. Even I have some trouble with it, and I'm the guy who wrote it. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that I can't figure out a way to craft his power without it being this complicated, and I have been trying basically ever since I put up the Penguins and moved onto this project two weeks ago. So, before you spout out the first thing that comes to mind, please make sure that you understand every aspect of why the power currently looks the way that it does.
The first thing that you may be wondering is why in the world this power needs to work with "start of turn" and "end of turn" mechanics. The reason is that this power should not allow the character to fly on a turn other than their own. I have limited this by only allowing the power to grant flight during a character's own turn, but falling often happens on a turn other than the character's own, and so the power basically needs to delay falling until the character's turn. Furthermore, if the power is only going to grant flight during the character's turn, then the character is going to start falling again at the end of their turn (I do not want to grant flight until the start of the character's next turn because I do not want to allow the character additional movement with flight that could be granted on another character's turn, and this would also screw too much with the trigger necessary to keep the character falling at a reasonable rate). It's a little known rule, but you actually can't use any actions during the start or end of your turn (seriously, look it up), so this power has to make special allowances to get used during those times.
I did experiment briefly with the wording of falling "immediately after the start of your turn" and "immediately after the end of your turn", but believe it or not, that turned out to be more confusing, specifically when it came to wording when a character could or could not gain the fly speed if falling on their own turn, because getting it after falling only 10 feet was way too little but needing to fall 30 more feet after already having fallen 30 feet was excessive. Besides, there are other reasons why a character might fall at the start or end of their turn, and I'd like for this power to be usable in such circumstances anyway.
The rest of the distances have been carefully crafted to allow the character one turn of flight (maximum of 14 squares with a double move or 18 squares with a double run) for every 40 feet (8 squares) that the character falls, though this is only 30 feet (6 squares) on the character's own turn, which is fine because it probably needed to use an action to fall to begin with anyway. The reason that this is 40 feet and not 30 feet as it may seem to be is because for the power to grant consistent flight it must get used during an initial fall (at least 30 feet), again during the fall at the start of the character's turn before it can fly (another 10 feet, totaling 40 feet), again at the end of the character's turn when it falls after losing its fly speed (another 30), again at the start of the character's turn again (another 10 feet , totaling 40 feet since the character's last turn), and so on.
The part about losing the flight if you fly upward is actually a very recent addition that I added in when I realized that having some sort of method of at least semi-legitimately flying at-will (such as by taking the Desert's Voice prestige class and getting Wind-Walk as an at-will power) would be very problematic when combined with this power. This solution may seem a bit forced, but I think that it works.
The power may still not be perfect, but that's for you to decide and hopefully help me out with. There are still a lot of weird questions. For example, what exactly happens if you get knocked prone while hanging in mid-air (between using the power and gaining a fly speed at the start of your turn) but fall far enough to remain hanging in mid-air though use of the power again? Should this power even be allowed to be used when the character falls prone in mid-air, even though creatures that can legitimately fly cannot stop their fall in any such way? I've at least specified that the character resumes falling if it is stunned or of it falls prone, so some of these questions may be questions that could be asked about any flying creature that falls prone, so is it really the job of this power to give those circumstances rules at all? Or should I merely give a recommended ruling for such a circumstance but not actually include any additional rules in the power?
Oh, but wait, that's right, this manifestations has other features besides Glide that we should discuss, doesn't it? Well, between Glide and the speed of 7, I still wanted to give the Air-Soul a little something more but not anything too big. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to give it a bonus to jumping somehow, but Glide exhausted all of my originality, so I settled on a safe and simple minor bonus to Athletics checks made to jump, combined with the ability to grant this bonus to nearby allies in a fashion similar to the Elf's Group Awareness racial feature or the Half-Elf's Group Diplomacy racial features.
The Wind-Walk racial power also underwent a minor change. It used to be that this power simply allowed a character to fly 8 squares, but it has always bothered me here, as it has with many monster abilities, that this is unaffected by being slowed. However, the power now also improves as your speed does, including the speed bonus I granted the race, which makes this power now grant 9 squares of flight by default, so I shouldn't hear too many objections here.
I made sure that Wind-Walk would not alone grant problematic use of Glide in or out of battle. By the end of the character's turn after using Wind-Walk, it will have fallen a total of at least 60 feet (30 feet after using the power and 30 additional feet at the end of their turn), so it would need to get a total speed bonus of +5 before this would become problematic.
You may also notice that the revised form of this manifestation does not grant resistance to cold. This is because I never understood the thematic justification for granting them cold resistance to begin with. Frankly, there are better and more important things that need to be granted by this manifestation long before cold resistance.
6 squares, swim 4 squares
When you first gain this manifestation, select either +2 Endurance or +2 Heal. This choice can be retrained.
You have the Aquatic keyword. (You can breath underwater. In aquatic combat, you gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls against non-aquatic creatures.)
You can make an escape attempt as a minor action instead of as a move action.
All ongoing damage that you take is halved.
You have the Water keyword.
You have the Swift-Current
Swift-Current (Water-Soul Genasi Racial Power)
Move Action, Personal
You can shift up to your speed over ground or liquid terrain. You take no penalties for squeezing during this movement, can move through enemy spaces, ignore difficult terrain, and take no damage if the surface or substance you move across would ordinarily deal damage to you."Go with the flow"
And finally the Water-Soul! To be honest, it bothers me to absolutely no end that the official Water-Soul Genasi gets not a single bonus to swimming beyond its Strength bonus, and even that's not necessarily guaranteed anymore since Genasi were granted the long-awaited racial ability score bonus combination of Constitution and Intelligence. Now, I don't intend to imply that Genasi are a primarily aquatic race, but I don't think that they should be so terribly inconvenienced by battling in what is literally their element. To this end, I have granted them the Aquatic keyword and a swim speed.
I was originally going to grant them a swim speed of 6, but I felt that was taking up too much design space that might not even get used in many campaigns. Besides, I still didn't want to give the impression that the race was primarily aquatic. Then, I thought about granting them a swim speed equal to half of their normal speed, but I ran into the problem of what happens when a character is slowed; does their swim speed become 2 or 1? Then, I thought about a swim speed of 3, but it bothered me that the slowed condition would then have no effect on heavily armored character. Therefore, I finally settled on a swim speed of 4 squares.
Rippling Form is actually where most of the crunch is for this manifestation. I understand why the official Water-Soul Genasi gets a bonus to saves versus ongoing damage, but save bonuses are just so overdone as racial features, so I decided to take an alternative approach and simply say that Water-Soul Genasi take only half damage from ongoing damage. It's simple, elegant, effective, and keeps in theme with their official feature.
The other benefit of Rippling Form was added last, when I decided that this manifestation needed just a little something extra going for it in campaigns that would never include aquatic combat. It's a feature that I often recommend for home-brewed races that want to gain some sort of bonus to escape, and it's both simple and effective enough to serve as a minor boost while also not adding so much that I would worry about the manifestation being overpowered in a campaign that did include a large amount of aquatic combat. In case the thematic justification for this ability isn't obvious, its working name was "Slippery" before I decided to simply add it to Rippling Form.
Swift-Current is the only racial power (or racial feature in general) that has not at all been altered from its original version. I think that it's perfect the way that it is. I briefly considered also having it allow characters to squeeze as though they were tiny, but then I ran into complications when I had to come up with rules for what would happen were this shift to end in a space that the character could not occupy. It was more trouble than it was worth, and there's no sense in potentially ruining a perfectly good power.
Friday, January 20, 2012, 10:51 AM
I've recently decided that I might transfer some of my favorite home-brew projects to blog form rather than just keeping them on the forums, so here's my latest project, which was originally intended to be a Dragon article submission. You can find the original thread here
Now available for download here
as a .doc)
Well, I must admit that I'm a little bitter that Mr. Perkins didn't like my article idea, especially given his reasoning, but I'm not going to let all of this work go to waste, so I decided I would post it here.
The premise of this could-have-been-article is simple: What if we had more alternative racial feature options the same way that we have so many alternative class feature options? Yes, we have the option to customize our races through other mechanics such as feats, paragon paths, backgrounds, and so on, but the actual racial trait block itself hasn't seen much innovation other than the introduction of flexible ability score options. Having variant racial feature options allows us to cram a lot more flavor into a race and also allows us to get away with having more class- or role-specific features as long as those features have more general alternatives. As this is now a thread and not an article, I'm cutting out all of my fluff-talk and just going right into design decisions.
I selected very carefully what races I would create alternate features for. I would not create alternate features for any races that already had racial feature options. The only exception would be for cases where there were particular racial features that pigeon-holed the race too much without alternative options. The goal also isn't to add any new information to a race, so in the vast majority of cases, the new racial features presented do not reflect subrace but rather just an alternative interpretation of the default version of the race.
Well, I guess I might as well get right to it then! Feel free to steal any of these ideas or tell me what you think or PEACH or whatever. CHANGELING
The Changeling was the first subject that I tackled. I've long felt that its racial Will bonus was a wasted opportunity to introduce some really cool any unique features, so I gave it some of those features as an alternative. Next, its racial power was one that I did not like at all because it was too melee-centric, so I give it an alternative racial power option that called to mind the days when doppelgangers could read minds. Worldly-Wise:
Select either Cosmopolitan or Mental Defense:Cosmopolitan:
You learn 2 additional languages of your choice, and you gain a +3 bonus to Insight checks made to see through disguises. Illusion effects and Polymorph effects do not grant other creatures a bonus to their Bluff checks versus your Insight checks.
Select either Changeling Psych or Changeling Trick:Changeling Psych:
You have the Changeling Psych power.Changeling PsychYou can read actions and motives so proficiently that many would swear you can read minds. Encounter
Minor Action, Close
One creature in the burst.Effect:
The target cannot gain combat advantage against you as long as you can take actions, and you gain a +4 power bonus to Insight checks and Perception checks against the target. The effects of this power last until the end of your next turn.DEVA
I often hold the deva up as one of 4E's most well-designed races. Beause of those, I didn't really feel like I needed to "fix" anything, and I could really get to playing around with the idea of adding in alternative racial feature options as something other than a necessity. After deciding that I wanted Astral Resistance to be a constant, I went with providing alternative to Astral Majesty. Astral Brilliance:
Select Astral Justice, Astral Majesty, or Astral Utterance:
When an enemy that you can see makes an attack that has combat advantage against an ally that you can see, you gain a +1 racial bonus to attack rolls against that enemy until the end of your next turn.
You gain a +2 racial bonus to Diplomacy checks, and you learn the Supernal language. When you speak Supernal, listeners who don't speak Supernal understand your words as if you used their own languages. You can choose to disguise your speech, but in general Supernal is a universally understood language.DRAGONBORN
Dragonborn are already a very well supported race, and they were among the first race to receive official alternative racial options, in the form of the Dragonfear power that could be selected in place of Dragon Breath, so I really didn't want to touch them. However, the more I thought about it, I just couldn't deny that they needed an alternative to their CON-centric Draconic Heritage, and INT- or WIS-primary characters still don't have a viable racial power. I had a hard time thinking of a good racial power, but there is one thing that people have been wanting Dragonborn to do since the very beginning: Fly. From there, I challenged myself to create a balanced racial power that would still be useful even if characters later obtained genuine flight. Draconic:
Select either Draconic Ancestry or Draconic Heritage:
Choose acid, cold, fire, lightning, or poison. You gain resist 5 to that damage type. This resistance increases to 10 at 11th
level and to 15 at 21st
level. If you choose the Dragon Breath racial power, then you must choose the same damage type for this feature as you do for that power.
Dragonborn Racial Power:
Select Dragon Breath, Dragonfear, or Dragon Flight:
You have the Dragon Flight power.Dragon FlightYou unfurl your leathery wings and take to the sky to deliver your next attack. Encounter
Standard Action, PersonalEffect:
You can fly a number of squares equal to your speed and then use a standard action at-will attack power. After the attack, if you didn't end the flight on solid ground, then you descend to the ground slowly without taking falling damage.Special:
When you fall, you can expend this power as a free action. If you do, then you take no damage from the fall.DWARF
Again, we have a very well supported race here, and the Dwarf is even one of the few races to have already gotten subraces. There's only one little thing about it that's always bugged me: Encumbered Speed. It's so useless to so many classes, those that don't wear heavy armor anyway, so I took a page from my Genasi playbook... Steadfast:
Select either Encumbered Speed or Unhindered Speed:
When you are slowed, your speed becomes 3 instead of 2, and you can still benefit from bonuses to speed. Carrying a heavy load does not cause you to be slowed.GITHZERAI
Finally, another race like the Deva! I really got to do whatever I wanted for this one, so I experimented with a new idea: What if there were racial features that could modify racial powers? I always thought that the Githzerai racial power was a little bit "meh", so I could use this opportunity to beef it up a bit... Githzerai Mettle:
Select either Defended Mind or Inner Focus:
Being dazed, stunned, or surprised does not cause you to grant combat advantage.
Select either Mercurial Flow or Shifting Fortunes:
You can use your Iron Mind power as a minor action with no trigger. If you use the power as a minor action, then you can also shift 1 square.GNOLL
The poor, poor Gnoll, redheaded stepchild of playable races. You're about as badly designed as the Minotaur is (though I never really fixed you before because I don't even like you as much), and you didn't even get flexible ability score options! Your existance really is quite sad, but I will not ignore you in this thread! Here are your new toys: Ability Scores:
+2 Dexterity and either +2 Strength or +2 Constitution
Select either Pack Attack or Pack Hunt:
You gain a +1 racial bonus to attack rolls against any enemy that grants combat advantage to at least two of your allies but not to you.
Select either Ferocious Charge or Ferocious Counter:
You have the Ferocious Counter power.Ferocious CounterInstead of recoiling from your foe's attack, you recklessly lash out to exact your revenge. Encounter
Immediate Reaction, Personal
An enemy hits you with an attack.Effect:
You use a standard action at-will attack power. You must target the triggering enemy with the attack. If you are bloodied, then you can shift one square either before or after using the attack power.GNOME
Unfortunately, fixing Small size is just not something that this is meant to do. What I can do, however, is offer a new option for how you can use that racial power, especially useful for character not that great at Stealth. The Ghost Sound alternative may be a bit lazy, but I think that Pretidigitation fits the Gnome very well. Defense Mechanism:
Select either Proactive Stealth or Reactive Stealth:
You can use your Fade Away power as a minor action with no trigger. If you use the power as a minor action, then you can remain invisible only until the end of your turn, rather than until the end of your next turn.
Select either Master Prankster or Master Trickster:
Once per encounter, you can use the wizard cantrip Prestidigitation as a minor action.GOLIATH
There were a few races that actually gave me a lot
of trouble, and this one one of them. Powerful Athelete is basically two different features, so how do I work with that? The results aren't as exciting as a like, but they do include my first realization that when a race gets alternative feature options giving it new features exclusively useful to only some classes and roles is totally okay
. Powerful Build:
Select Powerful Athlete, Powerful Grip, or Powerful Stride:
Creatures take a -2 penalty to checks made to escape your grab. When you make an Athletics check to climb, roll twice and use either result.
You ignore difficult terrain when you run. When you make an Athletics check to jump, roll twice and use either result.HALFLING
This was the other race that gave me a surprising amount of trouble. I've always thought that Bold was sort of a "meh" feature, so I knew from the beginning that I wanted to give alternative options to it, but it was surprisingly difficult to figure out what. I ended up settling for one rather standard feature and another that I'm not totally sure about. It's hard to say that I'm totally happy with this one, but options are still better than no options. Halfling Courage:
Select either Bold, Daring, or Defiant:
When your use of a power provokes an opportunity attack from one of that power's targets, and you have combat advantage against that target, that opportunity attack takes place after you finish your action rather then before.
You can attempt to escape as a minor action, rather than as a move action.HALF-ORC
It's funny, the three races that game me the most trouble are all clumped together here. Swift Charge was, of course, the target of my hatred here, but coming up for alternative for it was actually surprisingly hard, considering that I didn't want to add anything that would be redundant with the Half-Orc's other features. I'm actually pretty content with how this one turned out, though. Savage Aspect:
Select Feral Heart, Swift Charge, or Vicious Critical:
You gain a +4 racial bonus on Perception checks made to find tracks and Nature checks made to calm or train animals.
When you score a critical hit against a creature, you can make an intimidate check against that creature as a minor action, instead of as a standard action, until the end of your turn.KALASHTAR
I've long thought that the Kalashtar racial power wasn't very good because of how limited in use it one. It's just not going to come up in too many encounters. The challenge was to craft a power similar in flavor and balanced in mechanics but also more generally useful. Battle of the Minds:
Select either Bastion of Mental Clarity or Siege of Mental Fog:
Siege of Mental Fog:
You have the Siege of Mental Fog power.Seige of Mental FogYou project an obscuring cloud into the minds of your enemies, concealing yourself and your allies. Encounter
Free Action, Close
An enemy hits or misses you with an opportunity attack.
Each enemy in the burst.Effect:
The target takes a -4 penalty to hit with opportunity attacks until the end of your next turn.MINOTAUR
The Minotaur! A lot of you already know how much I love this race but hate how poorly it was designed. Well, here it is. Here are the alternative racial feature that I would give Minotaurs to make them more generally useful. This doesn't
mean that I would give them these features instead
of the ones that they have now. Rather, I think that these features complement
the existing features in terms of the Minotaur's flavor, its struggle between civilization and savagery. Inner Struggle:
Select either Labyrinth Cunning or both Ferocity and Heedless Charge:
You gain a +4 bonus to all checks made to navigate or avoid becoming lost.
Also, being unable to see a creature does not cause you to grant combat advantage to it.
Select either Goring Charge or Uncanny Guard:
You have the Uncanny Guard power.Uncanny GuardA brief moment of vulnerability is negated thanks to your superior senses and innate cunning. Encounter
Immediate Interrupt, Personal
You are hit by an attack.Effect:
You do not grant combat advantage to the attack, and you gain an additional +3 bonus to your defenses against the attack.Special:
You can use this power even if surprised.SHADAR-KAI
Not very much to work with here, considering that the race is pretty light on features, but I did have a cool idea for its racial power, an idea which I admittedly ripped the mechanics off from one of my earlier projects. Do you know which one? Umbral Soul:
Select either Shadow Jaunt or Shadow Reach:Shadow Reach:
You have the Shadow Reach power.Shadow ReachYour shadow is your greatest ally, always by your side and often able to reach what you cannot. Encounter
Minor Action, PersonalEffect:
Until the end of your turn, you can treat creatures and objects up to two squares away from you as though they were adjacent to you, and the ranges of your melee and ranged powers increase by one.THRI-KREEN
I actually really like this race. It's just a shame that the power is so melee-centric and that so many characters will still be unable to find a good ability score to use with it. No problem, this is a perfect opportunity to bring back the Thri-Kreen racial poison from earlier editions and to try my hand at creating the rare move-action attack power. Thri-Kreen Attack:
Select either Thri-Kreen Bite or Thri-Kreen Claws:
You have the Thri-Kreen Bite power.Thri-Kreen BiteYou leap at your enemy and inject it with a paralyzing neurotoxin before springing away. Encounter * Poison
Move Action, Melee
You can jump 2 squares both before and after the attack. These movements do not provoke opportunity attacks.
Highest ability score +3 vs. Fortitude Level 11:
Highest ability score +6 vs. Fortitude Level 21:
Highest ability score +9 vs. FortitudeHit:
The target is slowed and takes a -2 penalty to Reflex defense until the end of your next turn.TIEFLING
The Tiefling racial power already went through one revision when the developers realized it was so underpowered, but they still tied it to only a few ability scores, so its utility is tragically diminished for a lot of characters. I went with giving the race another sin to pick from. I almost went all-out and created a new power for each sin, but I decided too cool it for now. Maybe in the future... Infernal Vice:
Select either Infernal Pride or Infernal Wrath:Infernal Pride:
You have the Infernal Pride power.Infernal PrideThe fires of your spite will bring your foe to its knees, as though to bow before you. Encounter * Fire
Free Action, Close
During your turn, you miss an enemy with an attack, and you would not otherwise still deal damage to that enemy on the miss.
The triggering enemy in the burst.Effect:
The target takes fire damage equal to your highest ability score modifier and is also knocked prone.WARFORGED
This is another one of those races that I just have nothing to complain about. It really is amazingly well designed! I got to have some fun with this one, so I played around with alternatives to Warforged Resilience. I know that many people would be sad to see the auto-success on death saves go, but that's a very game-specific sort of feature. In some styles of games, it's just not going to come up very often, so here are some flavorful alternatives. Forged:
Select Warforged Armor, Warforged Fortification, or Warforged Resilience:Warforged Armor:
Combat advantage does not grant a bonus to attack rolls versus your Fortitude defense.
Also, you take only a -2 penalty, rather than a -5 penalty, to Armor Class and Fortitude defense for being unconscious.
When an attack would score a critical hit against you, you can make a saving throw to turn it into a normal hit.
Also, a coup de grace cannot slay you outright by dealing damage to you greater than or equal to your bloodied value.
Monday, January 16, 2012, 4:06 PM
I posted this on the forums, but for some reason I felt like I should start putting some of my most substancial posts in blog form, so this, I guess, is my first blog post!
There's been a lot of discussion about what should be in the core of this new edition. Some people think that it should go back to basics first, with just the 4 most iconic races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human) and classes (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard). Others think that it should provide as much as possible immediately and just don't think that it would be D&D without Half-Orcs, Bards, Gnomes, Druids, and so on. This thread seeks to put both of these rather extreme desired into perspective to try to reach a reasonable compromise.
So, let's begin with the desire to have the core rules cover everything. It would have Changeling, Dragonborn, Drow, Genasi, Goliath, Pixie, Minotaur, Tiefling, Thri-Kreen, and Warforged all in the PHB along the more classic races, and it would include Artificer, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, Sorcerer, Warlock, Psion right there as well alongside the more basic classes. If not these explicitly, then the core might include rules on how to create more customized races or classes, rules that would allow one to easily reproduce these classes effectively.
Here's the problem: That gives the game no room to grow. Defining all of these concepts so definitively right there in the core means that the game just doesn't have much of anywhere left to go. This isn't just bad from a business standpoint for Hasbro. It's also bad for us as consumers. It's bad for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is game balance. With so many options, the game is going to be much harder to balance unless these races and classes don't allow for much if any individual customizability at all. The other reason, though, and the one that I personally consider more troubling is that it would make it harder to introduce new and more interesting mechanics for these player options.
Think about the Warlock in 3.5. If that had come out in the PHB, then it would have been much like the Sorcerer, Wizard, or Bard, just another spellcaster with perhapse a couple of different features and a different sort of spell list. Because 3.5 had so much time before the Warlock came out, they had time to really think about how to make it very different and mechanically innovative, and that's what made the class that much more fun to play! The same happened in 4E. Just look at the Monk. If it had come out in the PHB, it would have just been a rather mundane martial class like a combination of the Ranger and Rogue, or maybe like a lightly armored Paladin with the Divine power source and a couple of neat more magical tricks thrown in. Because 4E had so much more time before the Monk came out though, they had time to really think about how to make it very different and mechanically innovative. The result was the Full Discipline mechanic and one of 4E's most fun classes to play!
What am I trying to say here? Well, what I'm trying to say is that maybe it's best for some of your favorite concepts NOT to be in the PHB despite how iconic you think they are to the game. Giving them more time will help them to give them some mechanics that are really unique and exciting and innovative. This is what will keep the game alive.
Let's look at the other side, though. Like I said, there are a lot of people that want the core rulebooks to cover as little as possible, only the bare minimum. These people want only the basic 4 races, and some have even proposed not allowing any race but the Human in the PHB. As far as classes go, they again often only want the classic 4 but even sometimes propose less, like combining the Cleric and Wizard into a more generic Magic-User or including Rogue-like features as simply selectable as a build of the Fighter class.
Here's the problem: This gives the game to little to offer. Lack of options makes people feel like there's not very much they can actually do. If I have to wait for two years to be able to make a summoner or to be able to make a wrestler or to be able to make a shape-shifter, then the game as simply not delivered. D&D is supposed to be a game where we can make whatever sort of character we can imagine, and if even our first impression is that we have strict limits, then that does take away from our experience of the game.
Think about the races that were presented in the 3.5 PHB versus in the 4E PHB. The 3.5 PHB races were all basically human-like. They painted a very mundane picture of character race, because you were either human or a short human or a stout human or a human with pointy ears. This is a bad first impression of supposed infinite character customizability. The 4E PHB, on the other hand, included a couple of more exotic races in there with the basic human-like ones. The Dragonborn and Tiefling gave player the idea that, even if they aren't available yet, this will be a game where you can play anything your heart desires.
On the other hand, though, let's look at classes as they were presented in the 3.5 PHB versus in the 4E PHB. There were far fewer 4E PHB classes, and they had far fewer options for their features and powers. Sure, martial characters got powers, and that was cool, but that didn't really alter the number of ways that martial characters could be played compared to 3.5. This hit the Wizard class the hardest, which lost the ability to do so many things that many expressed that they didn't feel the Wizard even deserved to be called the Wizard. The 3.5 PHB offered many more classes and allowed for many more character concepts to be played right from the get-go without need for reflavoring. I could play a summoner or enchanter or shape-shifter or pyromancer or martial artist or berserker right from the start.
So what am I trying to say here? I'm trying to say that making the core rules too basic is going to turn people off. It's just not exciting to newcomers for them to be given the premise that they can make whatever they want but then limit them so severely. Being so limited in what kinds of characters the rules will let you construct is simply not good for business or for the game of D&D.
TL;DR: Let's think realistically about the options that we want available to us in the core of this new edition, because any of these extremes is going to be bad for the game, and it's impossible to find a good balance point that everybody's going to be happy with. We cannot and should not put everything right in the core such that the game has nowhere left to grow, but we cannot leave the core so vanilla that D&D betrays its promise to reflect whatever our imaginations can come up with.